Open Casting: Adele Griffin on Addison Stone

The lives of young artists are always ripe with intrigue and drama, the kind that pulls you in and makes you want to know everything about them. One artist you should know is Addison Stone, though, you may have never heard of her — probably because she's fictional. But thanks to Adele Griffin's gripping faux biography, The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone, curious readers are given an in-depth look at the trials and victories of Addison's tragic life. Today, Adele discusses what went into writing the novel and where she drew inspiration from. Take it away, Adele!

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is a documentary-style novel about a troubled, brilliant young New York artist, now deceased. Inspired by Edie: An American Girl, the memoir of the gorgeous Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick, I told Addison as an oral history, fully illustrated with full-page art, plus photos, magazine and newspaper clippings, sketches and candid snaps of Addison’s brief, turbulent life.

Creating a faux biography reminded me a bit of community theater, which I loved as kid. My family moved around a lot — my dad was in the Army — and when I was young, a great way to get to know my neighborhood was by auditioning for local plays. Being in a cast was a natural “in” and a way for me to understand my new environment from the comfortable perspective of backstage.

Inventing Addison Stone was like stepping back into one of those plays. Only this time, I was the director and I had to invent my whole cast, from the bit players to the supporting parts, as well as my temperamental love triangle — Addison, Zach, and Lincoln — roles that demanded the most nuance and complexity.

Giza Lagarce, the face of Addison, had licensed me her entire Facebook identity, and another fascinating aspect of mounting this production was cherry-picking through all of her photo albums. I’d look for key, intimate, storyboard moments in Giza’s life as they might fit to Addison’s. I would then go back and revise my text to fit these visual scenes. I revised the text again when all of the art came in from the four different artists “playing” Addison. For me, this was also pure theater — looking at the stills, and then redefining the drama so that my cast looked exactly right for their parts. 

One component of theater is music, and in a book that is written as a chorus of voices, I was always searching for a soundtrack for Addison Stone. The Edie connection brought me back to memories of The Velvet Underground, who I hadn’t listened to in years, and were strange to rediscover. I also listened to Daniel Johnston, a songwriter and musician. The documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a chronicle of Johnston’s fragile mental health, and it made a haunting, lasting impact on how I thought about Addison.

Films and documentaries of other young artists — Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat a biopic of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and The Woodmans — a film about the family of photographer Francesca Woodman, also got me to deeper places, as I hoisted up my own production of this high-voltage, daring, passionate young woman. In the end, it took many real, inspiring images and voices to breathe life into the drama of a docu-fiction, and now I couldn’t be more excited to set Addison on the stage — in what I hope is a memorable, lasting performance.

-Adele Griffin

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stoneis available digitally and in print! For more author insights, books and buzz, visit the Everything YA page.